Honoris Causa

Three women and nine men received honorary degrees at Harvard's 351st Commencement, a constellation of luminaries larger than in any year since 1993, when Julia Child, Colin Powell, and 12 others became honorary alumni. In order of presentation, this year's honorands were:



Photo by Jim Harrison

Yuan T. Lee. He has been called the Mozart of physical chemistry. Born in Taiwan, educated there and at the University of California, Berkeley, he came to Harvard in 1967 as a postdoctoral fellow to work with Professor Dudley R. Herschbach. In 1986 they shared the Nobel Prize in chemistry. Lee taught at the University of Chicago and Berkeley and is now president of the Academia Sinica in Taiwan. Doctor of science: Beaming light through chemistry's curtains, a dynamic investigator whose experimental ingenuity unshrouds the mystery of how molecules mingle.

Peter Brown. Born in Dublin, educated at Oxford, he has served on the faculties of Oxford, Berkeley, and Princeton, where he is the Rollins professor of history. Doctor of laws: Learned interpreter of late antiquity and early Christendom, whose classic works on the postclassical world illuminate ages once called dark and reveal the ancient anew.


Mamphela Aletta Ramphele, BI '89. A leader of South Africa's Black Consciousness Movement in the 1970s, a medical doctor and social anthropologist, she served as vice chancellor of the University of Cape Town and is now a managing director of the World Bank, where she leads its activities in health, education, and social protection. Doctor of laws: Champion of excellence in the African academy, courageous leader in the quest for equality, a vital force for the health and the hopes of those in greatest need.


Howard Raiffa. Decision analysis, game theory, statistical decision theory, behavioral decision theory, risk analysis, negotiation analysis—each field bears the indelible mark of Harvard's Ramsey professor of managerial economics emeritus. Doctor of laws: A choice scholar revered for his analytic acuity and worldly wisdom; his decision trees yield bountiful fruit, and his games much more than fun.


Bernard Williams. An illustrious ethicist admired for his formidable skepticism, rigor, and wit, Sir Bernard is a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, and Deutsch professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. Doctor of laws: Probing problems of self and mind, plumbing the limits of ethical thought, he confronts with Cartesian clarity the question of how one should live, to help us make sense of humanity.



Photo by Jim Harrison

Katherine Dunham. An unmitigated radiant force. A hip-sweeping anthropologist. The hottest thing to hit Chicago since Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked the bucket. Katherine Dunham has been called all these things, as well as the matriarch of black dance. A lifelong social activist, now in her early 90s, at 82 she went on a 47-day hunger strike to protest the U.S. government's policy of returning Haitian refugees to their native land. Doctor of arts: Performer and choreographer, anthropologist and educator, a rhapsody in motion whose enchanting cultural artistry has set the world dancing to a different drum.


Sydney Brenner. A native South African, educated there and at Oxford, he is known for a series of defining discoveries in genetics, including the identification of "messenger RNA." Former director of molecular genetics at the Medical Research Council in Cambridge, England, he has more recently served as president of the Molecular Sciences Institute in California. Doctor of science: Messenger god of modern biology, creative and ingenious, divulging deep secrets of our genetic code and heralding our genomic future.



Photo by Jim Harrison

Albert O. Hirschman. Born in Berlin, he studied in Paris, London, and Trieste. In 1940 he worked with the American editor Varian Fry '30 to rescue European intellectuals fleeing the advancing Nazi occupation. He went on to an academic career that included a decade at Harvard and then more than a quarter-century at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, doing cross-disciplinary work on the economic and political development of less developed countries. Doctor of laws: Trespassing boldly across scholarly domains, developing insights into developing societies, a splendid social scientist with a bias for hope and a passion for the possible.


Julius B. Richmond. A great friend of children, a pioneer in introducing psychosocial development into pediatric education, he was founding national director of Project Head Start. He also launched another major federal initiative to create Neighborhood Health Centers in hundreds of America's neediest communities. He joined the Harvard medical faculty in 1970, leaving in 1977 to serve as assistant secretary of health and surgeon general of the United States. He returned to Harvard in 1981 and is now the MacArthur professor of health policy emeritus. Doctor of science: Farsighted architect of initiatives in health, master builder of bridges linking academy and community, for whom nothing is more precious than the life of a child.




Photo by Jim Harrison

Ruth J. Simmons, Ph.D. '73. Born in Grapeland, Texas, the twelfth child of sharecroppers and the great-great-granddaughter of slaves, Ruth Simmons became president of Brown University last year. Before that, she served as president of Smith College. At Brown she is also a professor of comparative literature and teaches in the Department of Africana Studies. Doctor of laws: Opening minds, opening doors, opening eyes to new opportunities, she has spurred higher education higher with inspiring providence.


Neil L. Rudenstine, Ph.D. '64. After becoming Harvard's twenty-sixth president in 1991, he challenged and coaxed the University to think of itself as one university, not just a collection of schools that share a common name. Doctor of laws: Principled and humane, sagacious and urbane, a Renaissance man who has lifted the sights and upheld the ideals of a grateful University, pointing Harvard's starry array toward newfound constellation.


Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Professor of government at Harvard from 1966 to 1977, a four-term U.S. senator from New York, ambassador to India, and U.S. representative to the United Nations, he is the author of 18 books, on topics ranging from architecture to urban poverty, from Social Security to international law. Doctor of laws: A quintessential scholar-statesman whose capacious learning and independence of mind have shaped our national conversation; to complex questions of consequence his answers are never pat.        

You might also like

Kevin Young Named 2024 Harvard Arts Medalist

Museum director and poet to be honored April 24

How Air Pollution Affects Our Brains

An expert Harvard panel discusses the links between air pollution and dementia, learning, mental health, and mood.

Harvard Magazine March-April 2024 Scavenger Hunt

March-April 2024 Print Issue Scavenger Hunt

Most popular

Retreat and Recreate: Peddocks Island

This Boston Harbor island offers an urban oasis.

The “Bionic Leaf ”

Harvard scientists find a way to convert solar energy into a liquid fuel.

Net Effects

Janet Echelman’s urban sculptures take to the skies.

More to explore

Photograph of Winthrop Bell 1910

Winthrop Bell

Brief life of a philosopher and spy: 1884-1965

Illustration of people talking to each other with colorful thought bubbles above their heads

Talking about Talking

Fostering healthy disagreement

Vacationing with a Purpose

New England “summer camps” for adults